Hiking Safety: Essential Tips from a Real Backpacker
March 27, 2019

Hiking safety is probably the most important basic step of any outdoor recreational activities that involve your movement in the forest and natural lands.

Aside from the obvious hazards of falling from cliffs and getting injured by wildlife, there are many other risks involved when hiking and backpacking. It is important to know these risks, especially what risks are locally involved. Not every trail is going to be the same in terms of safety.

Hiking safety might be the essential skill for you to know and understand before venturing out into the natural habitats. Luckily, it doesn’t take a vast amount of knowledge or expertise to master the arts of safely exploring mountain trails – it just takes personal understanding and good old fashion common sense.

In this article, you will find a selection of hiking safety tips that any hiker should respect. Remember, you must always be safe before venturing into the wild!

Know the Hiking Safety Rules
for Your Local Area

Before researching the generalized and often generic set of hiking safety guidelines that often fill almost every article on the internet, it is critical to understand your local area, first.

What risks and hazards accompany the area you plan to hike in?

  • Are there tall bluffs?
  • Are there venomous snakes and large predatorial animals?
  • Do tornadoes occur or other significantly hazardous weather conditions?

Analyzing the actual risks and hazards of the area you plan to be in is more important than using a “For Everything” type of hiking safety guide because every area is essentially different than the next area.

shawn forest

Pictured is a beautiful trail I explored.

Don’t Forget about Hiking Safety at Night
Be Prepared to Stay All Night

Now if you’re like me, most of the time, you just day hike. I rarely night hike unless I plan to camp. However, I make sure I am prepared to stay all night in the forest whether I plan to stay all night or not.

Something could happen! Some sort of event could keep you from being able to end your hiking trip for the day, be it that you get lost or you become injured in some sort of way. It is important to pack gear for this sort of event.

As one of the most important hiking safety tips, I recommend packing enough food and water to last a few days. Also, make sure you are packing gear that you would need to stay all night in an emergency such as a poncho which can make an excellent source of shelter and a variety of other things.

couple camping

Headlamps are an important addition to your backpacking checklist.

Understand Your First Aid Kit
Just in case

In the past, I’ve made videos covering important gear to carry with you on your hikes. The most important piece of gear that I always recommend is a first aid kit. However, I’ll tell you first, take out everything from the first aid kit and learn how to use each item. If you can’t figure it out, don’t carry it!

Only carry a piece of first aid gear that you know how to use and add something to replace what you have taken out. I give this same advice for water filters by the way, why pack one if you don’t know how to use it in the first place? Like the introduction says, common sense is going to be your best friend when it comes to hiking safety.

first aid kit for hiking

Standard items found in a first aid kit.

Hiking Safety
Starts at Home

Before even stepping foot into nature, make sure you complete the important tasks of hiking safety measures taken at your home.

  • Tell someone that you are going hiking such as a friend and family member. Tell them where you plan to hike and how long you plan to be gone. This way, if something happens and you don’t return – their information may be critical for search and rescue efforts.
  • Thoroughly research the area you are going to and understand all the risks that are involved.
  • Research the weather forecast and make sure you are packing appropriate gear for such forecasts.

Completing these steps before your hike will incredibly increase your awareness of safety hazards once you start hiking.

shawn hiking

Shawn trying to visually tell us that it’s crucial to always watch where we step.

Don’t Forget the Three Essentials:
Navigation, Light, and Fire

Three essential gear items worth understanding and supplying for hiking and backpacking trips revolve around the three topics of: navigation, light, and fire. It is important that you can properly navigate your way through the woods – do this with GPS devices, a compass and a map.

It is important that you can see in the dark if needed – do this by packing a headlamp, flashlight or lantern of sorts. And finally, to get warm or cook food, you are going to need a source of flame – this can be accomplished with a simple lighter or fire-starting tool. I highly recommend you carry at least 2 of each source of these important items and remember to pack spare batteries!

light while hiking

Know how to make a fire.

Dealing with Wildlife
on the Trail

Wildlife encounters in the history of mankind have gone in many ways. The animal gets scared and runs away or the animal eats the human. I, for one, think it is ideal to avoid getting eaten by a wild animal. You can do this by watching out for wild animals and by ensuring that wild animals know you are in the area. Make noises and always be aware of your surroundings. Pay special attention where you plan to be stepping.

  • If you encounter something like a snake, simply walk around it, giving it plenty of space.
  • If you encounter a large animal such as a bear, stand your ground, lift your backpack up high above your head and scream.

The idea is to make yourself look bigger than the animal – never run, always stand your ground.

bears in the forest

Always respect wildlife.

Try Not to Hike Alone!
if you can help it

One of the best advice I can give you is to try finding someone else to hike with. Hiking and backpacking alone can be extremely dangerous because if something happened, there is no one else around to get help or help if needed.

Hiking with other people is good for all parties involved and safer. If you can, try to hike with at least one other person or even with a group of friends. If you must hike alone, try to save the solo hikes for shorter day hiking trails or one-night backpacking trips.

never hike alone

While hiking alone can be a rewarding experience, it’s always safer to have a hiking buddy.

Always Put Hiking Safety
Before Everything Else!

And perhaps our most important hiking safety tip of all – don’t get out there in the woods and assume you are invincible. There are not many man-made mechanisms in place to protect us from the wrath of mother nature. Nature is old and can be very unforgiving to me and you.

Always make sure you are putting your safety before all else. Never try to show off and bend the rules and guidelines of safety. Always keep in mind the dangers that are present before you. Don’t let risks and hazards scare you away from hiking but always ensure that you understand that they are present and that you use common sense when around them.


In the end, the most important aspect of hiking is hiking safety. It is a hiking safety tip turned rule. Every hiker should consider it before, during and after every hiking adventure they take. Safety is important at work, at your home, at school, and especially outdoors. Nature is a whole lot different than modern civilization where many safety protocols are in place to protect humans. In nature, it is often a free for all and humans enjoying nature really need to truly understand the need for safety awareness.

Shawn Gossman


About the Author

"The outdoors to me is the best medicine for stress and anxiety. "

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